Joining Mozilla

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As Mitchell Baker just blogged, and as a press release from Mozilla will announce shortly, I have taken on an exciting new role within the Mozilla world, leading a new organization focused on email and internet communications. Wow indeed.

I’m thrilled to take on a significant role within the Mozilla world. As my colleagues, friends and family know, I’ve been a fan of Mozilla for a long time. That hasn’t changed as I’ve learned more about its purpose, seen the wild improbable success of its transparent, altruistic, radical and inclusive approach, and met the people behind the lizard.

So, what exactly is the job? It’s simply this: Mozilla has decided that the best way to make email and internet communications better is to create a new organization with that (admittedly broad) space as its focus, starting with Thunderbird as the starting product and some seed funding. And they’ve asked me to lead that organization. As our son said when he heard the news “Isn’t it an honor to be asked by Mozilla to do this?” Indeed it is. I’m exceedingly flattered.

This new organization (unnamed as of yet, code-named MailCo) will be a sister company to Mozilla Corporation, and a subsidiary of the Mozilla Foundation as well. While it will legally be a for-profit company, its purpose will be to serve the public benefit. This means that while part of my job is to figure out a long-term sustainability plan for the company, it’s more important for me to make email better than to generate significant profits. If profits happen, that’s fine, but generating profits at the expense of the public benefit is not. It will be fascinating to figure out what that means in practice.

My first steps will be to learn about the current state of affairs, starting with Thunderbird: what are the current processes, what’s most urgently needed, who would be good members of the core team, etc. In parallel, I’ll be talking to whoever is interested about what kinds of directions MailCo could or should go in. I’m expecting to get a lot of email in the next few weeks. If you have ideas you want to send my way, feel free to email me (firstname.lastname@gmail.com). I have all kinds of ideas as to what we can do, but I’ll need a lot of feedback to help sort out the wheat from the chaff. Knowing the Mozilla community, I don’t think I’ll have a hard time getting that feedback!

In a separate post, I say a few words about ActiveState and the exciting stuff happening there.

[Update: in response to all the questions: I'll be staying based in Vancouver.]

42 thoughts on “Joining Mozilla

  1. Congratulations David! Sounds like a wonderful opportunity and a great way to help the community. Thunderbird definitely needs some TLC, so I was excited to hear about the new “MailCo” initiative. Knowing that they brought you in makes it even better!

  2. Sounds like a fun project! Best of luck ;-)

    Maybe this company would have the chance to take a look at some of emails fundamental problems and weaknesses? (read: reliability & spam). Maybe some type of public encrypt email sig???

    Really looking forward to TBird improving — its not bad, but could be a LOT better!

    Cheers,
    -Chris

  3. Congratulations David! One question: are there any plans to make this a closed source project or will Thunderbird and related products remain open source with active help from the developer community?

    -farshad

  4. It’s funny that this announcement comes out at almost the same tie as the Yahoo buying Zimbra announcement came out.

    My Advice, from some random internet voice. Do what Zimbra was trying to do, do it with out massive corporate intrusion. And do it right.

    There is no reason why Exchange should be the obvious choice for collaboration and communication. Make “MailCo” carry the same weight that firefox has begun to carry in the corporate and education world. As a BETTER alternative to the “obvious” choice.

    Good luck!

  5. david

    Thanks all for the wonderful feedback! Three quick comments:

    * Thunderbird will remain an open source project, as it will remain a Mozilla Foundation project.

    * I’ll be staying in Vancouver, but traveling to the bay area and other places fairly often, I expect.

    * I will be looking for people to join the core team — not sure yet what roles need to be filled when, but I’ll post when I am!

  6. Glad you are staying Vancouver based, David!

    Like Boris blogged, it would be super cool if the team was in Vancouver! I for one am looking forwad to MailCo integrating email, IM, RSS, Atom, Twitter, etc into one cohesive whole!

  7. Glad to hear something is happening in this realm. I have to tell you that Thunderbird needs the help. It has languished for far too long with restrictions placed on it that have held it back heavily.

    Here are some items that need immediate attention:

    1) There are a slew of bugs still to be dealt with.

    2) The plugin community must be grown and that takes interest. The community isn’t there because this product is so far behind where it could be.

    3) Much better support for RSS feeds and such. A typical example: You can block ads in Firefox but the same technology doesn’t work in RSS feeds and is, in fact, prevented from working!

    4) Easier back-up and restore. I came to Thunderbird from a respected program called Forte Agent. It simply got too old. However, one great thing about it is that you could restore 100% of it from install to install simply by creating a shortcut to it. It’s way too easy to lose data in Thunderbird. It’s not a big deal for that to happen in Firefox. It’s HUGE in Thunderbird.

    5) Archiving. I want Thunderbird to keep ALL my e-mails for YEARS going back. For work this is essential as you need a record of what was done or said. Thunderbird doesn’t like this and starts wanting you to compress data every single day. I kept 8 years of e-mails in Agent and had to compress twice in all that time.

    6) Smart mail group support. I have to currently remember the e-mail address of a mail list. Why? If I’m posting from that folder let me tell you what it is once and be done with it. Having to remember this stuff is what I expect software to do.

    There are many others but since you’re in Vancouver, you’ll have the lack of stress to focus on it. Used to work right next to the EA building there and I miss the trips. What a city….

  8. Joshua Peri

    One of the things I am most interested in is email that I can manage independently of the OS. Even with thunderbird the email is stored in a filethat is part of the OS.b I don’t want to have to lose the old email when there are problems with windows, and I have to reinstall.

  9. Congratulations !
    Your new job is a great challenge.

    Thunderbird really needs important improvements in its professional capabilities (ex: autoconfig, extension and update managers, address book and LDAP support).

    Since years, no special channel exists in the project to take care of enterprise users needs which are sometimes very different from home users ones.

    Our 80.000 users are betting on you to change the situation !

    Bonne chance ! ;)

  10. Holy crap congrats David! This is sooooo damn exciting! I thought “E-mail is Broken” was the most serious problem among all the discussions we had and by far the one that needed solving the most. I’m happy to hear your organization won’t be distracted trying to find a solution that lends itself to a business model. Should be a bit easier and a lot more fun!

    Best of luck, and I’m very excited to see what comes out of the MailCo lab!

  11. Privacy Nut

    I’d like to see the integration of GnuPG with Thunderbird made a bit easier. There are millions of Firefox users today — what if there were millions of Thunderbird users, all sending encrypted email? If encryption were more common it would not stand out like a sore thumb on the backbone like it does now.

    Good luck with MailCo, keep us posted. Think about Portland OR for developers too :)

  12. Jim

    I don’t know whether to offer congratulations or sympathy. Most of us have a like/hate relationship with Email, and you will probably become typecast as the face of Mozilla Email. Here’s wishing you enough time to at least make some progress before the comparisons between the real world and high expectations start closing in on you.

    Of course, your primary task will be to make sure that there is a strong foundation for the Thunderbird project so that current maintainers feel like they are being respected and you are able to attract new ones. The seed money will not last very long, and as is obvious from the many good comments here (and I encourage you to put all of the suggestions on your roadmap), there is still quite a bit of work to be done.

    As a Thunderbird user, I have been reasonably satisfied with it for personal use. However, I don’t believe that yet another Email client will ever put you in the same class as Firefox. In the world of MS Exchange and webmail offerings, Thunderbird is more of a sparrow. But I believe that if you set grand goals, you will attract enthusiasm from the best and the brightest. Think about big picture ideas that will make Thunderbird live up to its name. For example:

    1) Target spam. There are a number of protocols for validating email, so do what Pidgin does, support all of them. And lead the discussion on how to go even further.

    2) Email, calendars, IM, and RSS feeds are just different ways people communicate with each other. Build the premier FOSS groupware system to incorporate all of them and more. The suggestion about a better Zimbra is a good idea. Interface with OpenLDAP and other directories.

    3) Consider building your own server. Or is there a P2P alternative? Or something in between?

    4) Make encryption so easy that Grandma and Aunt Tillie can use it without knowing it. Can you safely embed info in the header so that T’bird to T’bird is recognized and automatically exchanges keys?

    Best wishes.
    Jim

  13. skierpage

    Make a Chandler-killer!

    Seriously, on the management side unifying e-mails, IMs, contacts, and events into threaded “conversation logs” is huge. I hope this can tie into Firefox Places so it can weave bookmarks, downloads, and RSS into threads as well. And as others said, archiving is critical.

    On the creation side, smart linking to people, places, times, and messages would be so useful, mostly in a Calendar “Meet _David_ for _lunch tomorrow_ at _a free-trade coffee house_” but also in messages when you write “as _Ben said_…” and it finds the other message for easy quoting.

    I’ve usesd Eudora->Netscape->Mozilla->SeaMonkey->Thunderbird for aeons, thanks for staying with it!

  14. kevin Song

    There are 130M+ internet users.
    They send billions of emails everyday.
    There are more and more open source community and open source developers.
    China should be one of main market.
    Mozilla has setup an office in Beijing, how about Thunderbird?

  15. David,
    I just finished an excellent book called “Good to Great” about transforming good companies into great ones — now might be a great time for you to read it too.

    On an unrelated note, your comment box doesn’t fit into my browser window. This is quite annoying.

  16. david

    Donnie and others –

    I’m sorry that the comment box doesn’t fit — can you post or email the details of your screen configuration?

  17. Congratulations David! Something interesting is finally going to happen in the email realm.

    I recommend a 1999 book “Practical Internet Groupware” by Jon Udell. In which it envisions a groupware system with email and newsgroup a key component. Sadly I think few investment and innovation, anit-spamming aside, are being made in this area compare with web :(

  18. Frog

    While it will legally be a for-profit company, its purpose will be to serve the public benefit. This means that while part of my job is to figure out a long-term sustainability plan for the company, it’s more important for me to make email better than to generate significant profits.

    This is nonsense. You may need to research your legal roles and responsibilities a bit more.

    See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foundation_(charity), for a start.

  19. Pete

    Just curious:

    What will happen to Thunderbird’s code base?

    Does this involve the Penelope project?

    Does this also involve the Lightning / Sunbird Project?

    Is there going to be any mail servers in the future? Ok, this one is out of left field, but I may have hit on something.

    Regards

  20. Congrats. I’m interested to see what you guys do at the new MailCo. All of the non-browser left overs from SeaMonkey definitely need some tender love and attention these days.

  21. STEPHEN SNELL

    HELLO DAVID ASCHER,

    FIRST OF ALL, I’M WRITING IN (CAPS) BECAUSE I’VE GOT “CP” AND I TYPE WITH MY (NOSE) AND SO IT’S EASIER FOR ME TO TYPE THIS WAY. ANYHOW, DO YOU KNOW ON WHEN THAT YOU’RE RELEASING-OUT “THUNDERBIRD” VERSION (3.0)? PLEASE LET ME KNOW SOON. (THANKS SO VERY MUCH FOR YOUR TIME DAVID ASCHER)!!!

    BEST REGARDS: (STEPHEN RAY SNELL)!!!

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